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SABC in ‘serious crisis’ after CEO quits

2014-02-04 13:10
Cape Town – Commentators and South African broadcasting experts are demanding answers and transparent accountability from the SABC and the secretive Lulama Mokhobo after she shockingly quit as SABC CEO refusing to give any reasons, plunging the South African public broadcaster back into a management and existential crisis.

The languishing SABC has been struggling since 2009 – when it came to the brink of financial collapse and required a government bail-out in the form of a loan – with an ongoing lack of real and visionary leadership, a lack of broadcasting expertise as executives abandoned the broadcaster, mismanagement, corruption, a bloated personnel corps, censorship of news and commentators, and ongoing concern over eroding news values when it comes to impartiality.

William Bird, director at Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) calls Mokhobo quitting as SABC CEO after just over two years "a very serious crisis" and says the latest management upheaval at the beleaguered SABC "is very disturbing".

Bird demands that the SABC and Mokhobo explain and provide reasons why she is leaving. "We need to know why she has resigned".

"It also leaves the SABC in an extremely concerning position in the run up to elections – a  time when it's role in informing and educating citizens is even more critical".

"We now have a situation where the top five positions at the SABC are either vacant or have acting people. Some of them like the chief operating officer (COO) have been vacant for years! We are still waiting the outcome on the chief financial officer (CFO). We have an acting head of news".

"It is a very serious crisis," says Bird. "It must set alarm bells ringing in every structure involved in broadcasting. The question we have to ask is whose interests does it serve to have an SABC in such a vulnerable state?"

"At this point it is critical that ordinary citizens stand up and demand explanations. We should also seriously consider the urgent appointment of an independent public editor to oversee the elections period. At this stage we need to investigate as wide an array of options as possible," he says.

‘We are not seeing any leadership’

Kate Skinner, an independent broadcasting researcher and expert, and extremely knowledgeable regarding specifically the public broadcasting landscape in South Africa tells Channel24 that the ongoing instability at the SABC is a system failure.

She also implores South Africa to demand answers as to what is going on at the SABC.

"We are seeing ongoing failures from the side of all oversight structures, including the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and parliament (parliament's portfolio committee on communications)."

"It is interesting to note that parliament and Icasa have not commented as yet on Lulama Mokhobo's resignation. We are not seeing any leadership. As the public we need to ask each oversight body what is happening and what are they doing about it."

"At the same time as asking the CEO, we need to ask what is happening with the positions of COO and CFO," says Skinner.

The notable South African TV critic Tashi Tagg of TVSA said "yet another change in the SABC's senior executive? Someone please wake me up when the record changes!"

’A shock and surprise’

Colin Mackenzie from TshwaneTV and the secretary-general of the Association of Community Television South Africa (ACT-SA) which represents community TV stations and which forms part of the public broadcasting sphere in the country, says Mokhobo leaving the SABC "comes as a shock and a surprise".

"A stronger SABC and a more vibrant SABC is to the benefit of the public and community at large, enabling people to get access to much better information and in that the SABC has a huge role to play".

He says however that it is good that the SABC is not supporting the conditional access (CA) system for the looming digital terrestrial television (DTT) switch-over, "and I commend the SABC for saying no to that".

Mackenzie says he feels that the SABC's current board is moving in the right direction. “Mokhobo was appointed and she resigned. It’s her prerogative, she was employed and hired for a job and has the right to move and leave when she wants".

‘We simply cannot accept this resignation’

Sekoetlane Phamodi, spokesperson for the SOS Coalition, a broad-based public interest, pressure group for public broadcasting in South Africa tells Channel24 that "We simply cannot accept this resignation."

"It would mean that at this critical time, three months ahead of an election, the SABC is left with no permanent senior executives and, consequently, no real leadership to ensure that the people of South Africa have a public broadcaster that can meet their information needs".

"The people of South Africa, to whom the SABC is entirely beholden, deserve more than this. We deserve an accountable SABC and a stable SABC staffed with permanent and visionary leadership at the highest levels. In short, an SABC that works," says Phamodi.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) of which the SABC is a member, declined comment when asked what the NAB makes of the loss of yet another CEO at the South African public broadcaster.

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